If you’re writing an academic book, you’ve probably spent some thinking about the type of book you want to write. You’ve also likely heard a lot of opinions — some solicited, some not — concerning the “right” way to write an academic book.
Many academics — especially junior scholars — are pressured to write a book. It’s not necessarily the book you want to write, but it’s the book you think you need to write if you’re to earn tenure and be respected in your field. In the academy, we’re socialized to believe that books must conform to a set of unwritten rules to be successful. These are rules concerning the pace at which you’re supposed to write, the magnitude of your scholarly intervention, the intended audience, and the press with which you should publish, to name just a few.
When you follow these rules — or allow these rules to stress you out — you end up writing a book. This is no small feat! However, a book may not be the book that you truly want to write, which is your book. I believe there are several important differences.
A book might be the hastily revised dissertation that you submit because a department chair, dean, or other well-intentioned senior scholar told you to “just get it done,” presumably to save your effort for your second book. This might be the book you write under duress because you’re behind, and don’t think you have the time to give the manuscript the attention it needs. A book is the one you write defensively, frightened of what an overly critical reviewer might say about your work. You write a book alone because you’re worried that asking for help will expose you as an impostor.
Writing YOUR academic book.
Your book is the one you write because of your passion for a topic or the commitment you feel towards the community you represent in its pages. You write your book with a sense of confidence in your own expertise, knowing that while there’s always more to learn you aren’t uniquely unqualified to be a scholar. It’s not necessarily the book you need to write, but it’s the book you want to write. To be clear, it won’t be all unicorns and cartwheels. When you write your book, however, you’ll feel way less resentment towards the hard parts.
Tenure is not a promise. In fact, nowadays you can’t rely on any sort of job security in academia. That’s why it’s so important (as my friend Laura Portwood-Stacer always reminds us) to write the book that lights you up – your book.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “there’s no way I can possibly write my book the way I want to,” then I encourage you to think about a book vs your book along a spectrum rather than as a dichotomy. What can you do now to bring you closer to writing your book? How will you do it?
If you want help writing your book, then I invite you to consider joining me in Elevate, my group book-writing program. We are welcoming a new cohort in early February. Check out the program description here, then fill out the application form here (don’t worry, it’s not a quiz). I’ll be reviewing the applications shortly and inviting eligible candidates to an information session where you can ask questions about the program and learn more about it. The application form is zero pressure so if you’re interested definitely check it out!